Monday, 25 Oct 2021

Hostile states ‘could have spied on PM’ after mobile number ‘available online’

Hostile states could have eavesdropped on Boris Johnson as his personal mobile number was available online for 15 years, it is feared.

The Prime Minister’s number was published on the bottom of a press release in 2006 and never deleted.

But it was not until the Popbitch newsletter revealed it was still available on Thursday that action was taken.

Attempts to call the number on Thursday night were met with an automated message saying the phone was "switched off" and an invitation to "please try later or send a text".

Lord Ricketts, a former national security adviser, told the BBC criminal gangs or hostile states with sophisticated cyber capabilities might now have access to the number.

He said the disclosure could mean "thousands" of people have Mr Johnson's mobile number, putting him at "increased risk".

It was “basic security” to make sure a prime minister changes their number when they enter office, he added.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think one would be worried if a hostile state who had sophisticated capabilities, had the mobile phone number itself.

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“That must increase the risk that they’re able to eavesdrop on some at least of the communications that are going on, and possibly other non-state actors as well, like sophisticated criminal gangs.

“So, there is no way of knowing whether that’s true, but there must at least be an increased risk if the number is widely available.”

Senior officials had previously called on Mr Johnson to change his number because of concerns about how many people contacted him directly, it was reported earlier this month.

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But Chancellor Rishi Sunak played down fears Mr Johnson had opened himself up to possible covert activity and exploitation.

He said: "As far as I'm aware, all security protocols have been followed.

"Part of what makes the Prime Minister special is that he is an incredibly approachable individual.

"You see it wherever he is out and about – people feel they can relate to him, they can talk to him, they can tell him what's on their mind."

The press release, which related to Mr Johnson’s work as shadow higher education minister, invited journalists to contact him directly.

His use of his mobile phone has been in the spotlight after text message exchanges with entrepreneur Sir James Dyson and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman were leaked.

Civil service boss Simon Case reportedly suggested earlier this month he change numbers because his current one is too widely known.

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